leaning tower of piza

What are you building your life on?

In 1174, the Italian architect Bonnano Pisano began work on what would become his most famous project: a separately standing bell tower for a Cathedral in an Italian city. The tower was to be eight stories high (185 feet tall). There was just one “little” problem: the builders quickly discovered the soil was much softer than anticipated, and the foundation was far too shallow to hold the structure adequately. And sure enough, before long the whole structure had begun to tilt … and it continued to tilt … until finally the architect and the builders realized that nothing could be done to make the Leaning Tower of Pisa straight again. It took 176 years to build the Tower of Pisa, and during that time many things were done to try and compensate for the tilt. The foundation was reinforced. The upper levels were even built at an angle to make the tower’s top look straight. Nothing worked. The tower has stood for over 800 years, but there are definitely problems. Not too long ago, after having been closed for almost a dozen years, the Leaning Tower of Pisa was finally reopened to the public. During that 12-year closure, engineers completed a 25-million-dollar renovation project to stabilize the tower. They removed 110 tons of dirt and reduced its famous lean by about sixteen inches. Why was that necessary? Because the tower has been tilting further and further away from vertical for hundreds of years, to the point that the top of the 185-foot tower was seventeen feet further south than the bottom, Italian authorities were concerned that if nothing were done, it would soon collapse. 

What was the problem? Was it a bad design? Poor workmanship? An inferior grade of marble? No. The problem was what was underneath. The sandy soil on which the city of Pisa was built was not stable enough to support a monument of this size. The problems all stem from the foundation.

In Matthew 7:24-29, Jesus describes our lives as though they are houses. In the same way you build a house, Jesus uses this as a picture for how you should build your life. Jesus describes two kinds of house builders; one was wise and the other was foolish. The difference is in their choice of foundation.

We will call the first foundation the “fatal” (foolish) foundation built on sand. To fully understand why this was a foolish foundation on which to build a house, you have to know something about the geography of Palestine. In the summer, many rivers dried up altogether and left a sand bed empty of water. But just a few months later when it began to rain, these rivers would become raging streams. If you weren’t very familiar with the area and didn’t check the ground carefully, you could build a house directly in the path of a raging river during the rainy season. Why did this person want to build on sand? We don’t know exactly; the text doesn’t say. Perhaps he did not want to dig down deep enough to know the structure of the house was secure. Perhaps it was easier and cheaper to do it that way.

No matter the reason, I think this is a strong warning for us. One of the problems in the church among people who claim to be Christians is we are looking for an easy way to serve God. We build our lives on things like a job, career, financial investments, what college I’m going to, and our kids’ achievements. There are plenty of sand foundations for foolish people to try and build their houses on today. There are also a ton of religious things we can try to make our foundation. Church attendance, small group involvement, camp, mission trip, etc. Eventually, you must ask yourself: “Have I confused the building material with the foundation?” All these things are not bad things. In fact, they are all good things. But they cannot hold up the weight of being your ultimate thing. They cannot hold the weight of your life and be your foundation. Jesus is the only foundation that can give you a life that is secure.

The second foundation Jesus talks about is the “firm” (wise) foundation built on the rock. How does Jesus define the person who is a wise builder? He describes the wise builder as a person who hears the word of God and is faithful in doing the word of God. Jesus’ emphasis is not just on reading and studying, not just on hearing, but his emphasis is on doing the Word of God (cf. James 1:22-25, 2:26). 

There is a fatal foundation. But there is also a firm foundation. What is it that shows the difference between the two foundations? How do you know which is true of your life? In Jesus’ parable, if you had walked up to these houses, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the two. What made the difference between the “sand builder” and the “rock builder”? It was the storm. It’s the storm that reveals the foundation on which we build our lives.

When the storm came, the house built upon the sand fell, and the house built upon the rock stood. Notice how the storm is described. Pressure from above — The rains descended. Pressure from below — The floods came. Pressure from all around — The winds blew. That’s how the storms of life hit us. We’re hit from all directions — It seems like it comes from above, below, and all around.

Here’s something you need to know about the storms. 

  1. Following Jesus does not exempt us from life’s storms. Jesus isn’t teaching a parable about how to build our houses in protected areas –There are no “storm-free” zones! The outcome is determined by the foundations on which we’re sitting. — This is a parable about foundations, not avoiding the weather.
  2. Our faith will be tested. A faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted. Our faith isn’t tested in the sunshine but in the storms.

What foundation are you building your life upon? If it is on anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ, you are building on something that cannot sustain the weight of your life. 

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